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Dave Clarke

One of the most enduring techno and electro specialists on the planet, Dave Clarke pulls zero punches here, much like when he’s in the club.

A great DJ is someone who only cares about the music, not the ego, not the entourage, not the drugs, simple. To have your own sound and follow that, to not change for fashion but to create anti-fashion in a way, to have a heart and follow that. Aiming to please is the worst thing that has happened to DJs as much as politicians – by doing that you only represent your desire to have power and discard all integrity. The middle ground is a bullshit place, a place of emptiness and only self-interest, a place for reptilian chameleons that change colour to suit the environment so they don’t stand out and look non-threatening.

Good DJs do not give a shit about anything except principles – they are the ones I respect. Whether I like their music or not is immaterial in this regard.

The art hasn’t changed but the perception of it has. Those that can do it have adapted with new skill sets made available by technology, but the democratisation has lowered the entry tariff. Then add the fact that real reportage of fakery is almost non existent – it means the ‘art’ is perceived to be easy, as throwaway.

I never really read the room. I just come in and play music I like, but then I ride on the mood of the room.

Both technique and selection are paramount. A lot of DJs have got lazy and are more interested in showcasing their entourage and waving their hands in the air like egocentric, psychologically damaged teenagers.

You use what you will, you create with what you want and you are an artist –the moment you worry about others in this regard you are a shadow, an empty vessel. Some DJs copy the exact setup of others, when not using decks, and create a pastiche, a weak version of a photocopy. Good DJs do not give a shit about anything except principles – they are the ones I respect. Whether I like their music or not is immaterial in this regard.

The EDM guys present themselves as clowns, argue who is spending the most on pyro displays and the crowds sing along with Celine Dion. Utter shite. Complete denigration of dance music as we know it – no disrespect to Celine. Fame these days buys you more hype than your ability, even when skill is little or non existent. There are only a few really famous DJs that still can pump it, bring balls of energy and challenge music, otherwise it is just a puff of fart inflated by a PR machine fed by money.

Residents, the unsung hero of the whole scene, are completely put aside by the ever-expanding festival scene. They used to be the tape ops of their day, low paid and a few lucky enough to start headlining. Now very few of them have the same roads available to them. The art of the resident is to understand the club and the DJ after them and build, not suck the air out of the room before the headliner comes along. A good resident should be celebrated – it is the salad before the main course that makes you hungry, it isn’t an 800 gram steak cooked until cremated then along comes some delicate sea bass, if you catch my drift?

Some coke addicted managers, they try to do the Napoleonic divide and conquer, and when certain DJs hide behind this I lose all respect for them as an artist. To me they become a weak piss stain devoid of backbone. Also, if a DJ tries to dictate how you should play your last ten minutes then that is a big disrespect. When a DJ asks me how they should finish before me I say “as you please”. This is their time. Respect others’ art.

For me, John Peel is the best DJ as he played from his heart all the time. Jeff Mills was a big inspiration for me in the techno club scene. For house that would be Derrick Carter or DJ Heather. For hip-hop that would be Red Alert or Kool DJ Herc. For recent radio I would say Jarvis Cocker. For absolute do-not-give-a-shit and follow your own beliefs I would say Andrew Weatherall. I love the sound of lots of DJs. Did I mention Laurent Garnier? I could go on and on.

Mosca-Studio80-2 (Oct 2014)

Mosca

He’s done it on Radio 1, he’s done it on main stages at festivals around the world, he’s done it in dark, dank basements…

The 'true art' of the DJ is a meaningless construct invented by the media and the limits of our language, if you don't mind me saying. But it's still fun to talk about.

Nobody really knows the answer to what makes a great DJ. Aim to please? Of course. But that doesn’t mean the pleasure has to happen right there and then. It’s a subjective thing and there are always complications. The answer comes down to your mood at the time, and of course you have different moods, different levels of tiredness or energy or drunkenness, whether you’re with a group of people, whether they’re your friends or not, whether you’re on your ones.

Some sets are great to hear and watch by yourself in the crowd – you can really get lost in them. Other sets or types of music are more social. Watching dancehall by yourself is shit, although generally the crowd might be a bit more open to talking to a stranger. Sometimes I’ve just been in the mood for, I dunno, some real straight 4×4 house and techno, blended long and fluid and seamless – other times I think that’s boring as hell. The ‘true art’ of the DJ is a meaningless construct invented by the media and the limits of our language, if you don’t mind me saying. But it’s still fun to talk about.

I’m not sure the technical aspect has changed that much. Scratch DJs are out of fashion for the moment I guess, but that’ll come around again. In fact that’s one thing that’s surprised me with the whole ‘vinyl is cool again’ thing. I guess because it takes fuckloads of practice and talent rather than just buying records that are recommended to you. End of the day, DJing is patching sounds together in a way that’s personal to you, so it’s massively limited. If you were conducting the London Philharmonic at the same time as sculpting some Greek urns or something on two Technics pottery wheels, it wouldn’t be DJing.

But the selection has massively changed. The selection of records open to a DJ in 2015 is mind-bending. And that’s completely for better and for worse. For a raver or podcast fan or whatever, the DJ is still important because they are the filter for all the shit that’s out there, there’s a certain level of trust, blah blah blah… But on the other hand there are so many DJs, it’s almost the same situation again. So there are other filters, like certain nights or certain clubs or certain stations, that do that filtering of DJs for you.

The power of a track that people literally can't stay still to shouldn't be denied. It's a thing.

In my eyes, reading the room can be something as little as playing a record that’s going down really well for a little longer, or vice versa. I think looking like you’re enjoying yourself, or at least like you want to be at the club, comes into it to an extent. Making eye contact with people.

I’m kinda jealous of the cunts that obviously love their music, but that music is always what the crowds want to hear, you know? But tastes change, and sometimes after liking a track but then seeing the damage it does on the floor, you then love it. The power of a track that people literally can’t stay still to shouldn’t be denied. It’s a thing. But with the amount of music out there ready to be played, if you can’t find a massive selection of sounds that you love that would suit different types of crowds, you’re in the wrong job.

20th August, 2015

Comments

  • Dave Clarke is the only one you need to read here.
    “I never really read the room. I just come in and play music I like, but then I ride on the mood of the room.” is a pretty interesting idea- the opposite of what many other djs say, but i think he is correct: play as yourself and get the crowd to join you.

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  • Great article. Dave Clarke’s comments are great.

    Kids getting into DJ-ing these days have no idea how long it takes to learn how to beat match and mix tight on an old pair of Sound Lab belt-drive decks, while you spend 5 years to saving up for a set of 1210s.

    That aspirational aspect of starting at the very bottom and teaching yourself the art and then finally affording the pro-standard tech is almost non-existent now.

    Cheap laptop, cheap controller, auto-sync, off you go…

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  • I remember when I hit my first beat match on some real bad belt driven Numarks. I let both whole tunes play out perfectly beat match, then pulled them up and did it from the top again. Was a great feeling.

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  • Obviously I was in my bedroom alone at the time, you know how it goes.

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  • i started and finished back in the days where vinyl was the only serious option and can only shake my head at all the noise against digital djs. A dodgy set of decks and records is great to learn on if that is the only way music should ever be presented, but 2 or 3 decks and a mixer is only useful for doing the same thing over and over again. I have a feeling that Larry Levan would be would be using a laptop these. He wasn’t so elitist or conservative, and many of his then contemporaries (francois kevorikian, david morales, etc) have switched.

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  • Props to Dave Clarke for keepin it real…..somebody had to say it. Good DJing is about taste and you can’t teach taste. You either have it or you don’t. There’s no taste button like there’s a SYNC button. Across ALL genres now it’s about name dropping and backslapping.

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  • @nostaldont

    Most people who criticize digital DJing don’t do it on the basis that the format itself is bad or unworthy, but that the barrier to entry is lowered. You can afford to be responsive toward the crowd and imaginative with your selections if your record collection is broad and deep enough, so I don’t know about doing the same thing ‘over and over again’ either

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  • THANKS FOR THIS ARTICLE! cheers from Manila Underground and TIME in Manila xx

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  • Great article.

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  • Don’t sit on the fence Dave. Tell us what you really think…. 😉

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  • “New Bedrock signing Argy is as classically informed both in the studio and DJ booth as you would expect from someone from Greece. ”

    Umm.

    What?

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  • Great article, and agree that Dave Clarke is on point with his comments here.

    The debate about belt drive vs 1210’s vs cd vs mp3 and controller becomes moot when you get into the passionate about music argument. It is without doubt as easy as you want it to be to mix now but the excitement of playing great, and possibly, new music to a crowd is an intoxicating thing to do and if you can push that feeling out and into the crowd, how you do that is slightly irrelevant.

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  • This was a brilliant article. I really enjoyed hearing the opinions of respected Djs. They are spot on with their thoughts and make me want to perfect my craft event more. Thank you Attack!

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  • Saw Mosca in London a few weeks back and he was shite. ‘Trying’ to do his ‘thing’ and pissing everyone including the crowd, the promoters and the guy who was after him off!

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  • Dave Clarke was the best one on here and I give him credit for speaking the truth. The others I rarely heard of, not a good list of artists to take notes from.

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  • So what? You just living in the past talking bout playing music u love. That is shit talk its all about pleasing the people. So u come with your turn table and I come with my controller. You play all the music you love and i play to move the crowed and see who will get hired. Stop fighting down new age djs if you like to ride horse we like to drive cars. Its just new technolgy so get up to the time you old fowl

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  • Dave Clarke and Mr. G spoke to me the most. Mosca sounds like a complete moron.

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  • Darren, you sound very ignorant. Please consider the idea that “getting hired” or monetary sucess, does not necessarily define the word “success” entirely.

    Especially when you’re talking about the subjectivity of things like art & music.

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  • Mr.G knows the score. It’s not about mixing or tricks or filters. It is all about selection, knowing your tunes and knowing when to play them. You can take a crowd anywhere if you play the right tunes in the right order. Read the crowd. Two different nights the same set won’t work. Play the tunes you love and create a vibe the room can ride. It’s a two way process.
    You have to play to the people who are leading the room too. Watch out for the crazies that are loving it. They create the buzz. They are the ones that lead the dance!

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  • I agree to a certain extent, ERob. However it’s not just about selection, mixing technique is also important.

    Some genres of dance music are less amenable to “showing off” on the decks than others. There’s nothing quite like hearing a massive DnB double drop that’s been EQ’d perfectly – pure dancefloor destruction. Only possible because the DJ has great technique.

    House and techno, on the other hand, are less about those dynamic moments, and more focussed on creating a groove, so in that situation I would say selection is king.

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  • Darren is one of those djs that before he goes to club (if ever) he check facebook what people are posting.. Well Darren just sit back and buy todays top 100 on beatport. That must be it.

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  • My understanding from this article:
    Play music that you love. Coz if you feel the vibe, it spreads quickly on the dance-floor. Playing music for people, what they like, is acting like a Jukebox, not a DJ.
    Passion and love of music is of key essence, and spend alot of time digging deeper into it.
    Well, some people will miss the flying cakes, bananas and champagne, etc etc, with my music, but well, you can’t please everyone

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  • Darren, you are mistaking getting local 100 quid a night gigs with being a respected DJ.

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  • “Back then”
    “Back then”
    “Back in my day”
    “15 years ago”
    “20 years ago”
    “Before Technology”
    “Before the internet”

    so much we can learn from the previous gen of DJs and they usually just end up sounding condescending and nobody (especially punters) really care tbh

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  • lebron, if you lived in the UK (u may do) you would see a once great club scene (not just since 88 and Acid House) but through the 80’s with New Romantics then The Hip-Hop/rare groove scene, the soul scene which was massive from the Mod clubs of the 60’s to Northern Soul (which has a direct link with the Acid House/Balearic then rave explosion from 88-92/3 and it’s not bigging it up but true to say without that you wouldn’t have the global dance scene of now – apart from the German techno scene) to the Soulboy/Soulgirl movements that I grew up in during the early 80’s. I’m sorry to tell you that house/techno/dance music clubs in 89-94 here piss all over what’s left of house type clubs now. They are a million miles apart and I’m not being condescending as I still occasionally go to them and it’s just sad. A load of people huddled together like a swarm of bees all facing the DJ (I haven’t a clue what that’s all about) who is playing a seamless mix of tech House all at the same BPM, no slow build up of their sets, no dropping big tunes (are there any?) on The One when you’re least expecting it and no smiling punters.

    The club scene here is being decimated. The kids who are DJing take all their tips from Youtube tutorials and are ruled (and constrained) by the constant steam of Tech being pushed at them, the importance placed on perfect mixing has taken over from playing great tunes, being creative and original in what you play and knowing the music old and new. People here who would once have been anticipating the guaranteed excitement of the weekend (as I did) go to the pub. How can you say that some of the biggest DJs around are being condescending. Are you saying they don’t know what they are talking about as that’s just ridiculous? Most of what they say I’m afraid is fact.

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  • Why weren’t women included in this???

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  • People ask me all the time and playing from gut works everytime, I trust it 200%…:)

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  • Lil Louis, mentioned by Mr G here, made me cry last time I heard him play a month ago. Truly house, truly techno.

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